up next on booktv, president obama's sister, maya soetoro-ng reads her children's book to a group of kids here in washington d.c. her book, "ladder to the moon," was inspired by the wish that her late mother, ann dunham, had lived to meet her grandchild. >> greetings, one and all. and on behalf of our chief librarian, jenny cooper, welcome to the d.c. public library. my name is wendy lukehart, i buy the children's and teen books for the library system. i'm thrilled to have this special children's author with us tonight. let me tell you how thinked. not only -- thrill t. no only is maya soetoro-ng an amazing person who has written a book you are sure to love, but
this moment is all the sweeter due to the let's call them district administrative obstacles -- [laughter] that threaten to derail these efforts during the last eight months of planning. we nearly had to concede defeat and cancel the program when told last thursday that it was a felony to work or even volunteer our time during a federal government shutdown. happily, that situation was averted, so if you're happy and you know it, clap your hands. [applause] before i introduce our guest, i'd like to highlight some individuals and share a few details to help the evening go smoothly. a huge thanks to branch manager nicholas and his tireless staff for all their energy in preparing for this night. i'm grateful to my colleagues in the communications department, particularly joy mex a at the
helm, martha who seems to know just who to call for any problem, george williams, and our experts, eric white and maurice smith. we couldn't have hosted this without our wonderful security folks and all the librarians who offered to take on countless details. a shout out to the broad branch market for preparing our milk and customized cookies. and to politics & prose for handling book sales. i'd like to extend deep thanks to candlewood press for hosting our reception and a warm welcome to president and publisher karen lots. that brings me to the order of events tonight. after maya shares her book and spends time talking with us and answering questions, she will proceed upstairs to the adult reference desk in the front of the building where she will sign your books. while she is heading up there, we will raffle a signed print from her book courtesy of
candlewood press. during and after the raffle, we are asking you to stay where you are until maya is settled upstairs, and we will release you by sections. when your section is called, you'll have three options. you can head to the back of this corridor to purchase a book if you haven't yet, or you can take the steps or the elevator up to the signing or to the refreshments in the program room. your cooperation with being released by sections is greatly appreciated so everyone is safe and secure. now a few words of introduction. maya is the author of a brand new picture book called "ladder to the moon." the luminous illustrations are by award-winning illustrator gigi morales. you children are in for a treat because you are among the very first children in the whole country to hear this book. like you, maya used to be a
student. she grew up and went to school on three different islands; java, hawaii, and manhattan. [laughter] so i think she must know something about water, volcanos and making new friends. perhaps it's not surprising that she earned an m.a. in secondary language studies at nyu and a ph.d in international comparison education at the university of hawaii. maya went on to become a teacher instructing high school and college students in hawaii and working at an alternative middle school in new york. our guest is also a sister. she has several siblings, but there's one in particular you may have heard of. do you know who her brother is? who's her brother? yeah. >> barack obama! >> that's right. [laughter]
okay. [laughter] that was exciting. [laughter] maya is also a wife and a mother. she and conrad have two girls. although i'm sure she has many more roles, i will end with her very fist one -- first one, that of daughter. her book is one way that she shares her daughter emotions with her children and now with you. please join me in welcoming maya sew tore row -- so tore row -- soetoro-ng. [applause] >> thank you. hey, everybody. how's it going? good? good. who said barack obama, by the way?
that was very powerful. [laughter] powerful voice. >> i have a big voice. >> you have a big voice, and you know how to use it. so i'm going to read the book a little bit to you, or some of it. and then we can open up for some conversation and some questions. so you guys be thinking of questions that you have, okay? okay. one cool, new evening suehela asked her mama, what was grandma annie like? she was like the moon, her mother replied, full, soft and curious. your grandma would wrap her arms around the whole world if she could. mama gave suehela a hug. you have grandma annie's hands, she said. what did you guys get from your parents or your grandparents? anything?
yes. >> my eyelashes from my daddy. >> your eyelashes? they're very lovely. [laughter] >> i got my eyelashes from my grandpa. >> really? eyelashes are big. young man. >> i got presents? >> presents. what a great answer. [laughter] there's two kinds of presents, that's why it's such a great answer, right? there's the presents in the gifts that you give, the things that you get, and then there's presence as in attitude and point of view and voice. and i can tell you have both. [laughter] later, suehela lay in her pajamas, the moonlight coming through her open window, and she looked at her hands front side and back and wondered what else
had she gotten from be her grandma. as the night deepened and the crickets grew loud, suehela wondered and waited for it seemed something was about to happen. then as though an answer to her wondering, a golden ladder appeared at the edge of a sill, and an adventure begins. there right on the lowest rung stood suehela's grandmother. she beckons to suehela. suehela has dimpled cheeks. she said, you want an adventure, my dimpled child? suehela nods and tosses herself out of bed like a tumble weed, and up they go, up that golden ladder to the moon. grandma annie jumped first because she wants to get bigger and bigger, bigger than the biggest moon crater so that
suehela will have a soft place to land. and then they cuddle, and they talk, and they smile at one another. and they get to know each other. and grandma annie takes the shiver out of suehela. they look back on earth, and they see that there are people in need of help. a 50-foot wave was sweeping from the ocean to the land, and through swirling waters swimmers struggled up towards the surface. kick hard, annie encouraged them. swim. tilting her head towards her grand daughter he asked, shall we invite them to join us, little one? may we? , suehela responded.
we have lots of room. annie nodded and let her voice drift down. come and dance and get warm, babies, annie urged. and when the next giant wave crested, all the children leapt high like flying fish. suehela and annie caught them by their fingertips and pulled them up to the moon. draping scarves around their shoulders, they swung the children round and round until they could all laugh again, loud and long. the moon becomes a place where those who are sad, those who are confused and those who have lost things can gather and feel good again. they rest, but they also realize that they're not alone, and they talk to one another. and they get bathed in the rain, and they refresh themselves and
scrub themselves clean. there is still so much to do. there are fires to be tended, gardens to be weeded and trees to be seeded back on earth. we'll work together, annie promised. we'll throw in our hearts and minds and work with our hands to make the world a little more kind. and for sure they would. together they'd build bridges and buildings and bonds between people. looking back at earth, grandma annie spoke again, i feel safe moving the air down there. they're praying. for what, asked suehela. for one another, annie told her. and for us. and to make fighting stop. setting down her teacup, suehela
stood, and she felt it then. and through feeling, knew more than she had known before. looking past the golden ladder, she spotted people whose hands pointed upward from a synagogue, a temple, a mosque and a steepled church. one by one every person was finding his or her own path to the moon, each path connecting with the others. in one massive, hopeful stream. around the moon many languages become understood, and can those barriers that come from speaking different tongues are no more. and on the moon worlds that have been lost and great grandmothers who are stooped are found again.
and their value is understood. the value of the past, to help us figure out what to do tomorrow. we learn from the past, our great grandmothers have so much to teach us. and then you know what? suehela for the first time and all by herself is the one to reach down and to pull up. because suehela just realized she is powerful. do you realize you're powerful? yes. are you strong? [laughter] can you show me a muscle? nice. [laughter] very nice. you are strong. so you remember that. all the boys and girls on the moon, all the men and women were now part of the moon's hum, and their silhouettes could be seen
from far below and gave feelings of plenty to those who had little. i want you to look on this page when you get your book. see around the moon? it looks like little rays of moonlight. look closely. there's something else there. check it out. what do you see? yes? >> [inaudible] >> little, tiny people. they're silhouettes of people. hands connected on the moon. eventually, suehela turned to her grandmother and, again, nodded twice. grandma annie's nose twitched, and her lip trembled with love. i suppose it's time for you to go back. yes, said suehela. mama miss me, i'm sure. will you be okay? oh, yes, little pumpkin, annie replied. i am so happy we had this time.
so she slides down moon beams straight back into bed. the bed is soft and comfy, and she feels proud for all that she has learned and done and for having helped others to heal, and she notices there's a light outside her door. her mama's been waiting for her. mama, i'm home, suehela called into the hallway. mama, i met her. i'm in here, baby. come, tell me everything. and that's the end. [applause] so i ended that way because i think that children's stories, your stories are so valuable, and i want to hear them. i want to listen to you.
and to what you need. because that will make me a better person. you are powerful because when your parents and the people who love you do good things, guess who they do it for? you. that makes you very powerful. you inspire us. to greater heights, make us be better. and wiser. so this book is about a couple of things. one is that we have to remember that we are connected to one another this country, in this community, in this world, that we are connected to one another and what happens far away matters to you. or it should. and we should be able to feel
love and to understand people who are different from us and who are very far away even. and another thing i want you to remember is that you are what? paul. powerful. yes. and that means that you can serve, you can begin thinking about how to make others feel better. how to make the word matter, your words matter. be careful with your words. how to make the world a little more kind, a little more gentle. be sweet. in your interaction. and then, also, it's about thinking about those who came before us, people who have perhaps passed on but, please, know that you are loved by them, that their love comes and finds
you and, and that the things that they give aren't lost. that they're here with us still. anyway, i want to make room now for your questions, and i have, by the way, some of suehela's friends here, i see. nice to see you, and mine. thank you. [laughter] thank you all so much for coming. does anyone have any questions? in does anybody have any questions? yes. young man. >> how -- why did you want to write the book? >> i wanted to write -- that's a very good question. i wanted to write the book because i lost my mommy when i
was 25. and although i was a grown-up, i still needed her. and i missed her. so i wanted when i became a mommy myself to share with my daughters and the president's daughters, my nieces, some thoughts about who she was and what she was like. because i knew she would have loved to meet them. and to know them. and she would have given them so much. and made them feel so strong. and so that is one of the reasons i bought the book. i mean, i bought the book, i wrote the book. [laughter] thank you. and i, i also wrote the book because i'm a teacher. i'm an educator. and one of the things that i want to happen is for us to think about the world from more
than one point of view. so you see in the beginning, gigi morales who wrote the illustrations, she's very clever. so here tell me, kids, this is the moon from the earth's point of view, right? now look at the back. has it changed? >> yes. >> what is it now? >> the moon -- >> that's right. the earth from the moon's point of view. so the idea is sometimes we need to flip it, we need to make sure that we see things from more than one point of view. because we can't understand things in the world if we're only looking from one point of view. as a teacher you know what i get my students to do sometimes? you guys know about some current events and things that are happening in the world, do you read the newspaper yet? >> [inaudible] >> well, you will. so one of the things i have my
high school kids do because i'm a high school teacher is i get them to go look at english-language newspapers from all over the world. and you can see how in each case the stories are written a little differently. and in order to really know a stronger, deeper truth you have to see those differences and think about how things look from be other people's points of view. do you have friends and you sometimes get into a disagreement? do you ever disagree with your friends? right. so it's hard, but what you should do is try to see, try to imagine to yourself what, or say what's going on from their point of view? and i think the world would be more peaceful and our communities would be more peaceful if we learned how to do that. instead of having debates, and this is for teachers out there,
do structured academic controversies, you know? where what you do is you have people debate one -- their students debate a subject from one perspective and then flip it around, have them debate the other side. and then write a position paper that, you know, involves multiple points of view. that's such a valuable thing for young people, i think. sometimes i don't tell them what side they're arguing until 15 minutes before so they have to learn both sides of an issue. and then they can't get stuck in the one point of view. you've got to keep things big. throw open the windows. yes. young woman. >> my mom is a teacher too. my mom is a teacher too. >> that's terrific. e love teachers. i love teachers.
and what, what has she taught you this week? >> she didn't teach me anything. [laughter] [inaudible] >> did you guys hear that? she says i'm not in her school, but i'd love to be in her school. so, yeah. which means that she teaches you things every day, and there's a lot of love there. that's wonderful. we -- yes. in. >> my teacher is a boy. [laughter] [inaudible] >> his music teacher is man.
and you will be a man someday too. [laughter] and so the teachers in our lives teach us a little bit, each of them, about how to be young men and women, and that happens all the time. and it's a beautiful thing. do you take lessons from him that have nothing to do with music? he teaches you about music. do you like music? do you, do you, um, do you like to sing? >> a little bit. >> a little bit. well, songs just like storytelling can make us feel things like happy, right? or can make us feel comforted or make us feel calm. so use that music and share it
with others and tell your stories too. they're all very interesting. yes. >> tell us about suehela's reaction to the book. has she seen it yet? your daughter? is. >> oh, suehela, yes. my daughter has seen the book, she is very proud of the fact that her name is in it. and she reminds her first grade class all the time, my name is in the book. [laughter] she likes, her favorite page is the page where she's drinking moon dew from a silver teacup. do you guys like that page too? now, she puts on tea parties. they're very elaborate with her 2-year-old little sister. and i think this is about, you
know, it makes her feel very grown up. and she hosts the party, and she loves that part of it. yes. and we've talked about some of the other things in the book, you know, some of the challenging things, the difficult things. and my feeling is this is definitely a book to be shared with our children, and we don't need to talk about all of those things at once. parents and children can decide when they're ready, but she definitely does feel a sense of responsibility for others, caring. she works to help and serve, so she contributed to efforts to raise money for the survivors of the tsunami in japan, and she definitely has a big heart. she plants trees, reforestation, and i'm proud of her for that. yes. >> [inaudible]
>> i'm sorry? >> sometimes reading can make people sad. >> yeah. well, it's true. sometimes reading can make people sad. i read this book once called "where the red fern grows." anybody ever -- oh, my goodness. i just cried and cried. i cried like that at charlotte's web too. whoo. yes. but in a way it was good because even though i felt sad, i felt like i had found a family in those books, like i had found, you know, i really was sad because i cared so much about the people in the book. and, um, and that's really beautiful too even though it is sad. yes. yes, yes. >> do you still have any -- >> i wish i had illustrated it. you know, i didn't. the illustrator is a woman named
gigi morales. and she was originally from mexico, and she now lives in california. and, you know, interestingly -- >> mexico. >> mexico, si. verdad. she is, her picture is -- she's a curly-haired woman who looks a little bit like a skinnier version of me, that's what i think. [laughter] and when i, when i saw her illustrations, i felt so amazed and so grateful. i felt so connected to her because they were exactly what i had seen in my mind. but i did not have the ability to take what was in my head and to put it down on paper. so i was grateful that an artist like her was willing to bring
pictures to my story. and she is, i think, pretty magical. and she took stuff from her own childhood, too, like that little doll when there's a boy and he's born in a stalk of corn, and the great grandmother helps him to walk. and then she goes up to the moon, the dog somedays to protect -- stays to protect him. well, that's an aztec dog that comes from her own childhood stories. so, yeah. but i think her pictures are beautiful. and i felt very proud of the book. yes. yes. >> what's your favorite page? >> my favorite page. what's your favorite page? is i think i like the one where the children are leaping high like flying fish. >> my favorite one is the end
where -- >> oh, you see the earth from the moon's perspective. yes. can you imagine yourself there? on the moon? yeah. i think it would be a very beautiful place to be. i don't think i'll ever get there, but maybe you will. what is your favorite page? yes. >> my favorite page is the different languages? >> the different languages. right. when they all sit around the fireplace and they share stories and they start understanding each other better. give me a question. >> did your 2-year-old, did you read the book to your 2-year-old? >> i did. she is 2 --
[laughter] which means that she jumps around a lot. [laughter] so i jumped through the book with her. i didn't read every word because you, you know, you're a young man, and you have the ability to sit and focus, right? [laughter] most of the time. well, my 2-year-old, you know, she starts climbing on the furniture and dancing, she puts on my shoes. [laughter] so we share little bits of the story, but she likes the pictures. but she thinks it's her in the pictures. so she goes, that me. and i say, yes. whatever you want, honey. yes. >> this is my favorite page. >> the two sisters, yes. so the two sisters underneath
the trembling towers. yeah. well, i like them too. do you ever stick your tongue out when it rains? >> yeah. >> yeah? >> yes! >> yes. and doesn't it feel fresh? >> yeah. >> yeah. and so those, those towers, there was a lot of ash, and so they cleaned themselves. and then they worked together and built that spiral to the moon. and i love that idea of these two sisters who look very different. do you notice that their hands, you can see if you look closely, what, what do you see in their faces? yes. >> they're different colors? >> yes, they're shadows. and it's sort of like the ash
maybe. but what else? if you look at their heads like the globe. it's like they're the whole world. what could those white parts be? could be land, right? continents. it's like the whole world is in their faces. that's what i think. when i lock at it. when i look at it. i like that one too. is that because i'm supposed to stop? [laughter] it is a good place to stop. thank you so much for having me, and thank you for, thank you for your very good questions. [applause] and i'm looking forward to meeting all of you pumpkins. >> president obama's sister, maya soetoro-ng, on her book, "ladder to the moon." if you'd like to find out more, visit the publisher's web site,
candlewick.com, and search "ladder to the moon." >> in your book you talk about one of those life-changing moments. you're watching the justice thomas/anita hill hearings. what happens to andrew breitbart? >> i'd just graduated from college, a place where it was like my bar mitzvah. i thought in my bar mitzvah that i would learn an education about judaism, but i left feeling very empty because i just learned how to chant. i was open for a spiritual experience, i didn't get it. i felt the exact same way in college where i was an american studies major, and the stuff that i was reading was incomprehensible, and it was jargon. it was noam chomsky-like in its lack of comprehension to a person who doesn't understand that language. and it was demoralizing. and i, i graduated less skilled, less motivated, and i was
waiter. >> you robbed yourself. >> i did. my education was a lack of an education. and so i was waiting tables right after graduating college. and i'd finish my lunch shift, and i'd go home -- >> and your friends would say to you, why are you doing this? you're so much better -- >> it was embarrassing, it was humiliating, it was the best thing that happened in my life was to having to grind and the people i was looking up to and trying to impress were looking down on me. i started to pay for my own shoes -- >> but your parents cut you have off. >> it was brutal. and can that's why i dedicated the book to my father who cut me off and clarence thomas at the same time. both of their guidance in my life coincided. >> with that's a good segway back to the hearings. >> yeah. [laughter] well, i went from my wait job, and i started watching the hearings wanting to root for the takedown of clarence thomas.
i watched the television set, and the television set told me that this was a bad man, and the newspapers told me that he was a bad man. and i remember eleanor smeal, i remember patricia schroeder walking up the steps, these ladies, and saying we're going to take a stand against this guy for sexual harassment, serial sexual harassment. so i watched these hearings like a spectator who wanted to see somebody mauled, you know, like lions mauling, you know, romans. and i watched day one, i watched day two, i watched the entire thing. i went from wanting him to be taken down to wondering where's the beef, you know, what's going on here? i don't understand what i'm watching here. i don't understand the color commentary that's on the screen where they're saying, oh, this is outrageous. and i didn't understand the bumper stickers that were going by me on the streets saying, "i believe anita." i said, i believe anita what? i don't understand what's going on here.
everything that i knew, everything that i picked up at college in my american studies cultural marxist, oppressor/oppressed, black people are always right, white people are always wrong, i didn't understand how ted kennedy -- the ted kennedy of chappaquiddick fame -- how joe biden and a series of white, privileged men could sit in judgment of this man who was the son of grand participants who were -- grandparents who were sharecroppers who raised him, and he went to yale law school. he did everything right including allowing for anita hill to rise through the ranks of the legal profession through jobs with him where she never had a sexual relationship with him at all. he did nothing untoward. and she was party to this takedown. and i did not understand how it could be that these white people of privilege were attacking this black man who was in this historic position while the mainstream media took him down,
while the naacp and the urban league and other black liberal leaders sat and seemed to relish this takedown. >> who were your mentors? you had this mentor at the time who we're going to get to later who's brutally murdered. and you didn't know whether to cry for him or not. but you had this mentor, and it was along that time that you started questioning the indoctrination. >> the smartest person i ever met was this guy named mike. i was delivering pizza in high school, and he was just different. he was alternative, and he was the smartest guy i ever knew. in hindsight, he wasn't the most ethical guy. he took the s.a.t.s for a bunch of my friends and got them 1600s. he was the smartest guy you could ever meet. and he dropped out of uc santa barbara. and while i was going to college, he was floundering and doing drugs. during the period of time that he was my mentor, he was taking me to alternative bookstores to
read about left-wing ideas. you know, he very much was into the class struggle. and when i started to have these epiphanies, when i started to get my job, as i was aspiring to be an intellect, as i was trying to understand his world view, as i was trying to embrace the struggle, at a certain point my dad said something that nobody told him, you need to get a job. you need to clean up. you need to get your act together. you need to stop doing drugs. so there was a certain point where i started to challenge my mentor. it wasn't that i felt i was an intellect and i was able to beat him at the game of s.a.t. scores. i still was about 400 points below him on that level. but i started to gain the self-confidence and the self-respect that i could call him out on his misbehavior. and i just started to move away from this guy, and i got a phone call once as i was starting to move towards independence and away from this victimology that
absolutely dominated this guy's consciousness. i got a phone call that he was murdered at a hotel room in los angeles, and i imagine that it was during a drug deal that went, that went bad. and to this day i think about how i've never cried about that. >> you know, but i was thinking about your participants, thinking about your -- your parents, your story, the humiliation and how you had to negotiate with a professor to give you a higher grade so that you could graduate. and you realized much more of your life would be lost. but then a friend of yours at yale who was very bright called and said, andrew breitbart, i've got the perfect job for you. >> yeah. >> tell us about that. >> yeah. he was from harvard. >> harvard. >> he was an astrophysics major. seth jacobson who always cared for me. he always knew in prep school that i was not going to be the a
student, but that i was the class clown, but that i meant well, you know? even though -- that was how i skirted around my a.d.d. and was able to maintain my place? an elite prep academy. i knew that i was not going to be going to an elite academy. i didn't want to leaf my friends -- leave my friends though. seth knew my burden. [laughter] seth knew -- >> but you would visit him. >> he visited me, and he said, i need to take you on a walk. i said, no, sit down. he goes, i need to take you on a walk. he takes me around santa monica, and he said -- and this is when i was utterly wayward. and he said, i've seen your future; it's this thing called the internet. it works the way your brain works. and at that point i had been diagnosed with adult a.d.d., and i had tried ritalin for about a month, and i hated it. i felt hideous about it. i was trying to figure out how i could conform to the workplace where people have to work in
cubicles. and i knew that i couldn't do that. i'd rather drive around l.a. listening to talk radio or music. >> oh, but you left out you had started listening to rush limbaugh. >> yeah, uh-huh. anyway, he told me i've seen the internet, i've seen the future, and i still to this day think there's something almost too eerie about that. because he's right. the internet does work the way that my brain works. >> you can watch this and other programs online at booktv.org. >> would it be fair to say that there has been some level of more acceptance when you look at recent scandals, and correct me if my thesis here is wrong, that it's the ones that are attached not just with personal lives or sexual scandals, but then there's some other wrongdoing that eventually takes people out of office? >> that's right. >> politicians can survive sex scandals. >> politicians can survive sex
scandals. david visit every, the senator from louisiana, won his last election in a landslide victory. so it is possible right now because americans have gotten more and more used to sex scandals involving their politicians. ultimately, we argue that's a good thing because it'll enable us to stop eventually talking and obsessing about sex lives of presidents and politicians and start focusing on what really matters. >> what makes -- so bad is not just the politicians in new orleans and washington, d.c. washington d.c. when you have somebody that's that hypocritical and getting caught up in a sexual escapade, it just makes it even worse. >> well, instead of talking about this conceptually, before we go to phone calls -- and our lines are already busy for you -- let's just give one for instance.
what's your favorite story in the book? >> well, my favorite chapter turned out to be the eleanor and franklin roosevelt -- >> [inaudible] >> it was complicated. he had his girlfriend live anything a bedroom next to him, she had her girlfriend living next to her in the white house together. the american public didn't, obviously, know any of. but the fascinating thing about the story is that missy he hand, franklin's girlfriend, lorena hickok, eleanor's, turned out to be essential to helping these two figures become the great heros of american history who led us through the great depression and the second world war. it's an essential piece of their story, these extramarital relationships. and it's an important piece which has been long ignored by historians. >> you can watch this and other programs online at booktv.org. >> coming up, booktv is live from the second annual gaithersburg book festival. for the next five hours, join us as we cover several panfr